Friday, December 31, 2010

The numbers are adding up!

iPads made an impact this holiday season as sales topped all expectations. And I am now a proud owner as well. Will this fuel creative minds to come up with more new ideas? Will NonStop share in the success?

Walking back into my Boulder home this week I was truly appreciative of how fortunate I was to live in Colorado. With an uninterrupted view of Colorado’s front ranges as well as the Continental Divide, with the snow covered 14,000’ Long’s Peak clearly visible beneath a few high clouds, it’s proving quite a spectacle!

Readers of the comForte Lounge blog may have caught the most recent post It’s now in our hands! where I wrote of how I came into possession of an iPad over Christmas, and how pleased I am to become completely untethered, free to check magazines, newspapers, and even blogs no matter where my travels take me. The picture above is of me seated in my kitchen nook, checking the cricket scores, of course!

I’m not the only one in the family, however, with an iPad. Before I received my very own, our daughter Anna, very active in teaching technology, was given an iPad. In a recent post to her blog iTeach with iPad she wrote of how “as iPads gain in popularity, those in education are looking at ways that the iPad may improve teaching and learning in the classroom (and) I was given an iPad to test out!”

Unfortunately, she’s far from being as impressed with the iPad as I have become, and for good reasons. “It seems that there are not many good tools when it comes to teacher productivity. There are lots of educational apps that would be great for kids to use if each child had an iPad at his/her disposal, but virtually none that are helpful when there's only one iPad in the room.”

But it’s still early days and I suspect the iPad, is going to play an increasingly relevant role in business and the pool of applications available to tablet users will grow exponentially in the coming years. If the pundits prove correct, in time Anna may just see every kid with an iPad anyway!

In its last media prognostication contest USATODAY journalist, David Lieberman, did go so far as to suggest when it comes to which company will be selling the most netbooks in late 2010 – Apple? Dell? Google? HP? Intel? Someone else? responded with “the spirit of the question has to do with hot products, and one of the big stories of 2010 is how the iPad has reshaped the way we look at portable computers. So we’re going with Apple here (as it) dominates the mobile market …”

Social media will change, too, that’s for sure. While it’s not news to iPhone users to see an application, or App, for Twitter, Facebook, even LinkedIn available for their smart devices, embracing the iPad will see even more involvement.

To many industry observers it seems possible that sites like Facebook, with the support they provide for business pages in addition to wall space, may easily replace the need for a web site. Today’s up and coming business leaders will tend to look to Facebook for info, as readers of my generation checked out a web site!

This is not surprising as already I am accessing more and more sites directly from the Apps provided on my new IPad than from interacting directly with a browser. Perhaps what we are seeing from our young leaders should not be ignored.

Some of the numbers are amazing, almost overwhelming, but worth quoting in case you missed them. In naming Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, it was reported that Facebook added its 550 millionth member. Time then added “one out of every dozen people on the planet has a Facebook account … (and) lavish 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month.”

More impressive yet, Time then reports on how “last month, the site accounted for 1 out of 4 American page views. Its membership is currently growing at a rate of about 700,000 people a day.” Finally, and to pull it all into perspective, “in less than seven years, Zuckerberg wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network, thereby creating a social entity almost twice as large as the U.S. If Facebook were a country it would be the third largest, behind only China and India.”

Facing criticism over its detours into green-tech investments, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins was under growing pressure to return to what it does best – picking winners when it comes to internet start-ups! In its regular Valley Talk editorial Fortune columnist, Adam Lashinsky, wrote in December 6, 2010 issue, under the heading of “Kleiner Perkins gets its’ digital grove back on” how “they have stopped drinking the Kool-Aid and are committed to coming back and focusing on making money again.”

This was a reference to what one investor had told the journalist, but then to clarify where the money would be invested, wrote of “the recent announcement of Kleiner’s trendy ‘sFund’ for social media companies at least signals where Kleiner’s heart is these days.”

In the same issue of Fortune that I referenced earlier, Intel ran a full page advertisement that sums up much of what has been covered here. Under the heading “from the mind to the marketplace” Intel promotes how they are “helping university students’ worldwide turn thinking into the business of the future. Because encouraging new ideas fuels innovation!”

Put aside for one moment the smart phones, tablets, and netbooks and whether one company or another will dominate their respective markets. Ignore also the explosive growth in popularity of social networks and the content being provided on social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Be even less concerned about something as trivial as our kids’ texting each other pushing cloud computing to the forefront of technology discussions.

What’s more important than the simplicity, and ease of use, of these devices, and all the services being provided, is that there will be a generation of highly creative individuals empowered at a much earlier age than ever before. Their creativity will fuel the new ideas that drive the innovation that we so often talk about and struggle to embrace in our daily business lives.

When these new ideas translate to solutions and come to market, however, many of them will push into mission-critical markets where the attributes so highly valued by corporate IT managers and familiar to all where NonStop is deployed, will once again percolate to the top!

I really like my iPad and I have started to take it with me everywhere I go. It, and similar devices, will become the tools supporting many networks of creative folks. The information being captured and marshaled and then in turn, becoming the foundation for yet even more new ideas, lends itself for a new role for NonStop servers.

What we have taken for granted for so long with NonStop, and continues to create angst among those of us aware of opportunities even as we see so many oblivious of its potential should be fuelling an even more aggressive outreach on our parts. Free and untethered as so many of us have become, with little tolerance for outages of any kind, it seems to be ready-made for NonStop servers.

Perhaps it is already being pursued and perhaps there’s creative folks already tinkering with some new ideas. I am very encouraged by our daughter’s School District passing several iPads to the technology teachers to encourage creativity in the classroom. She certainly will put time into this research project, and you may want to follow her blog, Techie Teacher, to track the progress she makes.

And perhaps the message of NonStop will not be lost on this new community. Clearly, I have more work to do on this subject and as the weather over the Rockies worsens, I will just check out my iPad a little bit longer …

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Still making notes on coasters?

There’s many who see the role of social media as a distraction and a nuisance at times, while there are those who believe it will spur innovation. Should we be moving more aggressively to support innovation?

Perhaps the highlight of the year for me was the time spent on the Nurburgring circuit, late in September. This circuit used to be the venue for the German Grand Prix and having the opportunity to complete a number of uneventful, and relatively slow, laps driving on Germany’s Grüne Hölle, the world-famous Nordschleife, or North Loop, of the Nürburgring, fulfilled a childhood dream when I imagined I was running wheel to wheel with historic figures from a bygone era as we raced around this highly challenging and extremely dangerous track.

For those who may have read the post “Respect the ‘Ring” I made to my social blog,, the track was wet on arrival. There had been heavy rain overnight that had continued into the morning hours and as we drove to the track, we passed a number of flat-bed tow trucks leaving the track with wrecked cars on board. But with the coming of winter the Eifel forest, where the circuit is located, is often blanketed in snow and the picture above was sent to me by Thomas, one of the instructors from RSRacing who had tutored me in September.

Sitting at coffee shop the other day and paging through my Blackberry, I saw that it was snowing in Nurburg and I knew Thomas had read previous posts to my social blog and had connected with me on LinkedIn (LI) so he was likely to respond to my request for a photo but all the same, collaborating with Thomas to get the photos I wanted and in the timeframe that I needed, was pretty impressive. The picture above is of “hatzenbach” an early sequence of turns within sight of the South Loop and the grandstands that are a part of what today is the venue for the modern-era Formula One races.

Social media channels, and the ease the information can be shared globally, lets us maintain dialogues with friends and acquaintances with nary a concern about where they are or what they may be doing. Whenever we have questions, or need information, there are always those willing to step in to help us.

A good friend of mine, and a colleague from my days at Insession, began an email to me recently with the somewhat traditional “how are you,” only to correct himself and adding, “of course I know how you are, as does everyone else!” A reference to how regularly I update my LI profile as well as post to my Facebook (FB) wall and tweet! However, it’s not just sites like LI and FB that have the corner on collaboration!

From the first time I was exposed to the virtual community Second Life (SL) and created an avatar, I thought that global participation within a virtual community would be a boon to business. I had a lot of fun flying from island to island, checking out the construction that was under way. Landing on an island where Pontiac had a sales presence I even took advantage of the opportunity to test drive a Solstice only to drive it into a lake.

I dropped in on islands that IBM had bought where they were building digital representations of their labs, holding virtual meetings and, for a short time, there wasn’t a major IBM marketing event where you would escape an update on how IBM was benefiting from its exploitation of SL. While IBM is less vocal about its SL pursuits, it has licensed the technology and is hosting it behind IBM’s firewall.

Perhaps not immediately associated with traditional social media channels, it’s possibly more indicative of what’s to come than many of the more popular sites we readily access today. SL combines visual cues with exchanges we may otherwise overlook – and having cues that reinforce information only accelerates further collaboration.

But will virtual communities eventually overlap, perhaps even merge, with more traditional social media channels – will we stop being “followers” and be more active in our exchanges with others? Will communities such as SL lead to the development of even more communities?

I’m not a “gamer”, and so much of what is now available on SL is of little interest to me nor is it to many within the IT community I talk to. But a future where every social media channel, “traditional” or otherwise, takes us to areas of interest more quickly will be something that only further heightens our interest in collaborating that in turn nurtures the prospect for innovation!

Watching an old episode of CSI, a popular television program, the lead investigator visits a Buddhist temple where threats had been made and where it had been reported one of the monks had promised retribution. Picking up an old sword, the investigator is advised that it’s just an old sword brought over from Thailand and wouldn’t be of interest to which the investigator responded “the past is just the past but it may have the fingerprints of the future!”

So it is with the many forms of social media that we now so readily embrace – whether we treat them seriously or as a nuisance - as a networking environment that easily and readily supports collaboration, they may be very much an indication of what the future will look like! “The growing importance of networking, of mixing it with colleagues and generating ideas – using social media not unlike we used to use beer coasters and dinner napkins,” shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us!

Recently a reader emailed me a link to a review by Fiona Graham, technology of business reporter for the BBC news, of the book “Where good ideas come from: The natural history of innovation” by Steven Johnson. The quote above come from the author’s introduction, and what followed not only shouldn’t surprise any of us but help us realize where the future is headed.

The review adds a comment from Johnson that really adds substance to my own observations of late, suggesting “(good ideas) come from crowds, they come from networks. You know we have this clichéd idea of the lone genius having the ‘eureka’ moment. But in fact … it turns out that so often there is this quiet collaborative process that goes on, either in people building on other peoples' ideas, but also in borrowing ideas, or tools or approaches to problems.”

Wrapping up the review, a final quote concludes with “the ultimate idea comes from this remixing of various different components. There still are smart people and there still are people that have moments where they see the world differently in a flash … but for the most part it's a slower and more networked process than we give them credit for."

Spending time in Nurburg and unsure when I would next visit the town, I collected beer coasters as souvenirs. At the time, I thought that they would serve as a reminder of the great time I had, but perhaps I had missed the point. Long after their presence is gone and any association with my outing on the track is lost, there will still be blog postings and updates in various social media channels.

And just as we no longer sketch ideas on coasters but instead use our iPads, it is within the network that our creativity is fed and our ideas fine-tuned. With this change, as noted earlier, it will be the crowds with which we collaborate where future innovation lies. The fingerprints of the future are definitely visible today on all that we have worked on in the past – perhaps I will just keep the coasters to protect my countertops from the celebrations I am sure will follow!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CI-Ready or Not!

ISV’s are pursuing certification; the credentials obtained will sort out whose embracing modern programming models and frameworks and it’s a good start! But it has HP’s full attention!
This weekend I paid a quick visit to the vineyards near Los Olivos, just outside of Solvang. Deep in “Sideways” territory that includes a number of the vineyards and restaurants featured in that film. Since the weather wasn’t particularly helpful, after tasting a flight of wines at Fess Parker winery, we selected a bottle of Syrah and enjoyed it with a little cheese we had brought with us.

The photo above is of me in the midst of reminiscing on the film and devouring the cheese that included a very good English Stilton. For those who may not recall the specifics of Sideways, two aging former college roommates that had been unsuccessful in their respective careers – one a television actor and the other a writer – elect to just get away from it all and spend the week in the Santa Ynez Valley prior to the television actor’s getting married.

“Heavy week of posts behind me – think I will head for the wineries; about time,” I tweeted early Saturday morning as I added a baguette and a little pâté to the cheese I already had pulled out from the refrigerator. Somehow I recall that’s exactly what the characters in the movie did at one point and you can’t really blame them - it was difficult to miss their passion for wine!

This all leads into the exchanges I have had earlier this week, all triggered from commentaries I provided in earlier posts to this blog, as well as to a short post provided to the new comForte Lounge blog. Both of these posts were influenced by the recent article in The Connection, “NonStop ISVs can now earn ‘Converged Infrastructure Ready’ Insignia”, where author Sundaresh Krishnan (Sundar) provided a quick snapshot of what the program entails and why the community should pay attention to it.

In short, as HP was designing the Converged Infrastructure Ready, or CI-Ready, program it was the NonStop participants within HP who selected the tenets of CI-Ready applicable to NonStop – common modular infrastructure, common management, standards based software and came up with the criteria to determine whether an application or critical infrastructure software were CI-Ready.

In my November 9, 2010 post “Papers? Papers, please!” to this blog, I described how at this year’s NonStop Symposium HP NonStop management mused that “customers have upgraded their hardware, but their applications have not evolved.” How could we expect to see anything different? Wasn’t it up to the ISV community to embrace modern programming practices?

In fact, should an ISV develop solutions around modern tools, how could we be assured that these solutions would be compatible with the new tools being introduced by HP for NonStop? CI-Ready would provide these credentials, according to HP, and help assure IT that such a product satisfied the key criteria. ISVs would also benefit from the internal HP programs, as those with the CI-Ready credentials would gain increased mindshare with HP at large!

The Fess Parker winery is steeped in history and was one of the few wineries not to be featured in the movie Sideways. The winery’s founder, Fess Parker, was the actor hired by Walt Disney to play the role of Davy Crockett. The motif on the wine glasses of Fess Parker winery is the coonskin cap made popular by Parker’s character. On the walls around the tasting table are memorabilia from the Parker’s time with the Disney Corporation.

And yet the winery’s mission is among the simplest I’ve ever seen, admitting only to wanting “to grow the finest wine grapes on earth.” Somehow, I could hear in this admonition some of the same phrases from the NonStop Symposium of how NonStop is not a Tandem and how “the difference is real and significant, but the fundamentals are the same.” The platform of today is modern, open, standards based, deployed on commodity hardware without price premiums long associated with Tandem’s of the past.

The need to upgrade to modern applications was not just recognition that running yesterday’s software on today’s modern hardware wasn’t going to yield the ROI you would expect, and it was a huge dose of reality. Fresh from college, computer science graduates were coming well-equipped to work with development platforms capable of producing the types of solutions companies needed to compete and yet, there was nothing in the way that prevented the solutions created from running on NonStop.

But which tools? Which frameworks and runtime environments? And which ISV products provided options that didn’t simply compound the problem, as after all, the intent was to produce the finest applications on earth! “Modernization leads to business advantages,” Sundar suggested in a recent email exchange, adding “as the converged infrastructure strategy gains even more momentum this year, CI-Ready certification will be a key differentiator for partners.”

In the short post of December 3, 2010 “Call this art?” to the blog, comForte Lounge, I referenced a recent article of Marty Edelman where he rightly described modernization as “a journey of many steps,” and where he notes how “no one coming out of college has ever heard of (Tandem’s tools)!” What the intent of CI-Ready is to make the platform running the finest applications on earth completely transparent to those who develop them.

There’s now many managers who tell me that new hires fresh out of college have no idea at first that they are deploying their code on a NonStop server and when they do, they become quite passionate about it, marveling at all the steps they don’t have to take to ensure their applications will scale and remain available – all steps that required considerable programming discipline and called on techniques many found difficult to embrace.

There will be a period of overlap where more seasoned IT staff continue to maintain existing applications, even as they come up to speed on more modern languages like Java, all the while the college graduates, the new kids if you like, turn out new applications using the modern environments they were exposed to as part of their education.

This still doesn’t detract from the central topic. What about new applications being acquired – how can companies really tell if they won’t compound the problem and simply add to the complexity? After all, many IT departments have failed after bringing in the latest “Gucci Development Environment” only to realize what once was consider fashionable and trendy lost steam, as newer more modern technologies arrived!

“Converged Infrastructure (CI) is THE strategy at HP. It has resonated really well with the customers for the past year or so, and various business units within HP are strongly aligned to this,” Sundar continued in his latest email to me.

And in pursuing this strategy, HP has to be lauded for kicking off a program as ambitious as CI-Ready, as they could have as easily stood aside; the results may be questioned and some of the ISVs will be unsure of the true value. However, only a few weeks into the program such heavyweights as Integrated Research, ElectraCard Services, comForte, and even GE Healthcare with Centricity Enterprise have gained CI-Ready credentials so I can only assume in time, the majority of ISVs we all work with will pull out all the stops and follow suite.

“To grow the finest wine grapes on earth,” and then, to produce the finest applications on earth! There is a synergy between producing wine and applications – and I’m sure there will be many who want to help me out on this point. Bring a good English Stilton, of course!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nothing seems to last ...

It was only a few weeks ago when we took our car to the track, for the last time this year. And it was a wet weekend, raining so hard on Saturday that all events were cancelled. It was still a gamble as Sunday morning rolled around as the rain continued to come down, but intrepid drivers were not prepared to give up on the entire weekend.

The picture here is of the Corvette on grid, rain easing up just a little, but with me a tad anxious all the same. The season had started with a wet weekend and so it seemed appropriate to end on a similar note.

Ending the year at the fabulous (for Corvettes) and very wet Auto Club Speedway, a combination of an infield road course with the wide open banked oval of the NASCAR circuit (and hence the label “roval”) seemed appropriate, if not a little depressing.

When there’s water on a track however, all drivers take to the circuit with a measured sense of self preservation. No matter the kind of car on track, there’s not a driver who wants to return to pit lane with a car that’s badly bent out of shape!

Wet weather driving does encourage experimentation and a little innovation – very quickly the racing line becomes visible as the only dry section on the circuit. However, it may not be the best place to drive and early laps see drivers checking out alternate lines around the circuit and experimenting with braking zones and turn-in points. There was even a brief period where we had a dry, extremely clean, track and although it didn’t last long, I managed to eke out a couple of good laps.

In the latest issue of Time magazine that I picked up a few days ago, Richard Stengel, the magazine’s Managing Editor, wrote in his column “in our networked world, nothing ever goes away, but nothing seems to last very long either.” Certainly, applicable to the weather I faced this weekend.

Stengel then goes on to suggest “information these days is a commodity; understanding is scarce.” All of us trackside could see that it was wet but it was only a handful of wily drivers who recognized where to drive to avoid mishaps. And it can be said that all of us can get our hands on reams of publications about HP and about NonStop, but do we truly understand where NonStop is headed?

The Tandem architecture is now 35 years old and most of us have warm memories from the great times we enjoyed during the early days. Yet, to paraphrase Stengel, particularly of late as NonStop rides the Intel “curve,” nothing seems to last very long and yet, nothing ever goes away!

It was over two years ago when I posted “‘My Wish’ for NS Blades” to this blog and developed a Powerpoint slide-show around its core messages that I presented at numerous NonStop user community events. As a writer ever-willing to provide opinions, it’s a sobering thought to return to forecasts made this long ago, but before providing any further predictions, it’s none the less an important first step to take. After all, how accurate were these prior predictions?

In that post of February 12th, 2008 I suggested that my wish list was comprised of just three items - HP delivers in its message of Shared Infrastructure blades, HP commits to virtualization and provides a Hypervisor that supports NonStop as a guest operating system, and that HP acknowledges that it will also need to support middleware that interrogates incoming transactions, directing mission critical transactions to NonStop, important informational but not quite mission-critical to a Unix or Linux, and voluminous inquiries to Windows.

The first item was a request of HP BCS to deliver on the promise made in the slideware Martin Fink first unveiled as the “Shared Infrastructure Blades” package. This is where any mix of NonStop, HP-UX, Linux, and Windows Server OS’s will be supported. Shortly afterwards, the wraps came off a blades chassis populated with a mix of NonStop and Linux blades, and participants at the HPTF event that year could see demonstrations of mixed workloads running on this system hybrid.

Looked good and attracted the attention of a number of vendors but NonStop customers were a little uncertain as to what to make of it and gave little feedback to HP, and so we have not heard much more about this first attempt at hybrid.

But followers of the IBM mainframe can now point to the latest mainframe offering where zOS and Linux (with other OS images to follow, it is believed) sharing a common system bus with almost zero latency between intersystem calls! With all the talk of hybrid clusters and cloud computing, industry standard chassis populated with commodity blades running any combination of OS images is a goal being pursued by many vendors.

As for virtualization and a hypervisor, like one from VMWare, is not something I’m as aggressively proposing. It’s a bit like trying to determine what tires you need to run on a wet track – and be careful what you ask for! As so many in the community highlighted for me, there would be a cost to the level of availability offered and NonStop would lose all visibility to the underlying hardware – something very akin to the dicey situation that can develop when on a wet track with the wrong tires.

However, even as I admitted at the time of how I was going out on a limb with my last wish suggesting that with the mixed OS hybrids there would be a need for middleware products that supported real time interrogation of the incoming transactions and would direct mission critical transactions to NonStop, important informational but not quite mission-critical to a Unix or Linux, and voluminous inquiries to Windows?

Even as I see the hybrid model of my first wish building up a head of steam, this third wish – a kind of mutant mixed workload measurement and management system – remains a valid concern. Looking back, I continue to stick with two out of my three wishes which, in some small way, isn’t all that bad of a result.

Watching the sports headlines this week, TCU university, like so many other American collages of late, is switching from one conference association to another. Electing to participate with other collages with greater potential to play in major tournaments, TCU was leaving behind a program that had seen it join the elite of American football teams.

However, as well as it performed on the playing field, it was still having a tough time getting the attention of the tournament organizers and was being overlooked as potentially, the best football program in the country. "If you don't dream, you're living in a memory," Del Conte, TCU’s athletic director, said. Conte than proposed "who wants to live in a memory? Every single time we have an opportunity to think about where we're going to go (we) dare to be great academically and athletically!”

And nothing could be closer to the truth when it comes to looking at frequently overlooked NonStop – yes, memories of 35 years of Tandem architecture remain with us to this day but for me, it’s all about the future. Readers may have missed some commentary I provided in NonStop – A Running Commentary in the October issue of the eNewsletter, Tandemworld.Net and the slight variation I made on my earlier forecasts.

Gone is the pursuit of a hypervisor capable of supporting NonStop, and the availability of hybrid clusters in a box is now something I sense solutions providers will be the parties first to embrace and utilize in more creative fashion. And along with the hybrids, the need for hybrid workload management hasn’t lessened in the least, and so that remains a consideration.

New are the observations of a NonStop server becoming a smart controller! And of whether NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) will develop any of this at all, becoming a clearing house, or distribution point, for an arbitrary collection of third party infrastructure and middleware!

Will product roadmaps become nothing more than templates provided as guides and reference points to an ecosystem of ISVs investing their own nickels and dimes to populate?

My previous predictions first posted in early 2008 are all but memories for most of my readers but tallying up the scorecard and getting a two thirds pass rate I will take any time. All that I need now is one of these last two observations to prove to be correct to retain that two thirds pass rate.

Having said that, these latest projected events could prove to be extremely controversial among some users and trigger many more questions in the months ahead. On the other hand, and to paraphrase TCU’s Conte, too long with nothing but memories and it’s hard to start dreaming! And we would all be the poorer if no one dreams of future NonStop deployments!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's our reputation!

This week I flew to Cupertino on business, leaving LAX airport early in the morning. Pulling back from the gate and taxing to the active runway, we passed the forlorn sight of the QANTAS Airbus A380 super-jumbo standing idle alongside their hangers, pictured above (courtesy of AP, as published in the Australian newspaper).

Recent mishaps with the A380’s Rolls Royce engines have forced QANTAS to ground their fleet of super-jumbos. On a flight from Singapore to Sydney an engine failed catastrophically and the plane was very fortunate to make it safely back to Singapore.

QANTAS has for years enjoyed the reputation of never having lost a passenger to a plane crash and since the modern era of jet airlines remains alone in this category. Providing a reliable service is core to QANTAS’ business and any weakening of this message brings serious repercussions.

The Airbus A380 super-jumbo is an impressive and extremely innovative aircraft that has captured the flying public’s imagination. But gradually, as more news of the incident aboard the QANTAS flight surfaces, reliability rather than innovation, has grabbed the headlines.

According to an Associated Press (AP) article of November 18th, 2010 “Cascading failures followed airline engine blowout” Richard Woodward, a vice president of the Australian and International Pilots Association told of how “the pilots were inundated with 54 computer messages alerting them of system failures or impending failures (and) with only about eight to 10 messages able to fit on a computer screen, pilots watched as screens filled only to be replaced by new screenfuls of warnings”.

AP then added “airplanes are supposed to be designed with redundancy so that if one part or system fails, there is still another to perform the same function.”

But failure there was, as AP continued, “an electrical bus — a connection between electrical devices — on the left wing failed. The plane was designed so that a second bus on the same wing or the two buses on the opposite wing would pick up the load. That didn't happen.”

How close this came to ending QANTAS’s stellar reputation for reliability we will probably never know, but it’s looking increasingly like the crew and passengers dodged a serious bullet! It took a highly skilled team of pilots to deal with the emergency and preserve the aircraft.

Innovation has been a constant theme of postings to this blog. For the NonStop community, even after 35 years, the original architecture of NonStop is as relevant as it ever has been. The ability to continue to function after single point of failure has ensured it a place at the center of transaction processing and e-commerce applications.

The world is changing fast. Data centers are consolidating. Services are coming from multiple external suppliers. Outsourcing, off-shoring, and the increasing dependence on the internet are changing the future of the data centers.

Commoditization of hardware platforms is driving the prices down and open technologies are accelerating the adoption of new business models. Cloud computing is beginning to appear with yet to be seen ramifications for the data center.

Our everyday life is changing fast as well, and at times it seems as if we stepped onto a science fiction movie set. Checking in at an airline gate with my mobile phone, without any paperwork; loading a movie directly to my TV screen, instantly; re-mapping the tune of my car’s engine, and even its gearbox without a mechanic; remarkable! A wealth of computing power being applied in ways very few of us had considered only a few years ago.

But it’s all of little value if it isn’t reliable, and reputations developed over decades can be quickly lost from disruptions to the flow of business critical information. Perceptions can quickly change and the fall out can stay with us for a long time.

In a recent email exchange with Thomas Burg of comForte, he drew my attention to the latest data sheet on the HP NonStop iTP WebServer. This product has been available for many years, but I have to admit, it’s been some time since I read a data sheet on its capabilities.

“Designed for transaction processing and electronic commerce … implemented as a Pathway server class … (and) with Resource Locator Service (RLS), allows the iTP WebServer software to act as a front end to commodity servers based on the UNIX or Windows NT operating systems … (providing) reliability and availability to commodity Web servers by monitoring their status and selecting a server that is available and capable of processing the request.”

Front ending services and interfacing directly to the internet using the HP NonStop server raises some concerns, of course. Given the potential to improve the reliability, there’s still the issue of connectivity –NonStop as the front end for ATM and POS networks met the stringent reliability demands placed on it, but positioning NonStop as a web server and as the front end to everything within the enterprise is an entirely different proposition.

But not one that’s deterred some companies, suggests NonStop Product Manager, Sanjib Guhathakurta who emailed me a just published case study on the manufacturer, Rasselstein, a subsidiary of the steel-producing giant, ThyssenKrupp AG.

“The Integrity NonStop system integrates seamlessly with the rest of Rasselstein’s computing environment, including mainframe, UNIX system-based SAP business applications, and many Linux and Windows servers,” the company explains in the data sheet.

“Features of the HP Integrity NonStop platform are very important for us,” states Johann Pausch, Head of Application Development Manufacturing Execution and Logistics at Rasselstein, and he puts the NonStop system’s delivering the highest availability at the top of his list. “Its excellent connectivity to other IT systems and intelligent production devices, it is well suited to be the central platform for our highly automated production environment.”

The promotion by HP NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) of the use of NonStop as a web server front ending the whole internet (as they are now promoting), shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us familiar with NonStop although, I am willing to bet, such a configuration wouldn’t immediately come to mind for most CIOs.

It should also not come as a surprise to the NonStop community as this has been the theme of numerous presentations and many papers for all of this decade. The HP NonStop platform is the ideal candidate for front ending internet access, just as it has supported transactional processing and electronic commerce solutions since it first appeared in the marketplace.

In an article published in the July / August 2002 issue of The Connection, “Web Technologies on the NonStop Platform: Why Bother? Which ones?” written by Thomas Burg, he observed how “people underestimate the effort of (securely) running a Web server on other platforms and that the NonStop platform deserves some consideration as well.”

Just as importantly, comForte’s Burg notes “HP’s message about scalability and availability, and low TCO of NonStop servers, are convincing arguments in favor of a web server on the NonStop system.”

2002? Yes, 2002! Almost ten years ago. The growing interest in cloud computing and the desire to push down costs will really stress many companies’ abilities to maintain the reliability their customers will demand. For many of these companies this could prove disastrous to their business and prove to be a windfall for the competitors.

QANTAS found that they were fortunate, indeed very lucky, with the recent incident involving their superjumbo. According to AP, “it was just luck that there happened to be five experienced pilots — including three captains — aboard the plane that day. The flight's captain, Richard de Crespigny, was being given his annual check ride — a test of his piloting skills — by another captain. That captain was himself being evaluated by a third captain. There were also first and second officers, part of the normal three-pilot team. Even with five pilots working flat-out, it took 50 minutes to prioritize and work through each of the messages.”

Thomas Burg’s article written back in 2002 remains relevant, and we discussed how introducing a web server on anything less reliable than NonStop in support of the solutions we are seeing come to market can be done and, indeed, is still being done by many companies. Much of it pursued with little advanced planning and just as little insight into how to deal with growth while maintaining reliability. I have to wonder how many of them will be lucky enough to dodge potential bullets the way QANTAS managed to do.

What about their reputations? And what value do companies place on reliability? As globally economies begin to come back after several years of recession and competition begins to heat up, I have to believe HP will come to fully appreciate what they have in NonStop and we will see even greater deployment of NonStop servers playing a more prominent role in every data center!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Papers? Papers, please!

I was last in Berlin, Germany, in the early summer of 2005 and it was for the European ITUG user community event. There was much to anticipate, as Martin Fink had just been newly appointed to lead the NonStop organization, and the first new NonStop server based on the Intel Itanium chip was to be launched.

This was my last year as ITUG Chairman, and immediately following the user community event I flew to Warsaw, Poland, for a brief family vacation. However, I did take a few days out of my vacation to participate in the launch of the HP Integrity NonStop server at the Enterprise Network Storage Architecture (ENSA) conference in Copenhagen.

Also in attendance were Chris Rooke and Neil Pringle of HP, and Chris was particularly excited as he showed me a full-page advertisement from the Wall Street Journal. It featured Intel, highlighting the new HP-Intel partnership, and it welcomed the NonStop user community to a new era based on standards and commodity components.

As exciting as this event proved to be, I was anxious all the same to return to Warsaw and to continue with my vacation. However, it was papers of another kind that soon occupied my mind. Plans had changed and Margo and I would be leaving Warsaw by train to Frankfurt and I couldn’t push aside faded images from the cold war, half expecting that at any time I would be told to go back! The picture above is of the station – across the street from our hotel.

We were routed through Berlin and just prior to entry, immigration and customs agents began walking down the aisles. Then I heard it, “papers? Papers, please! I want to see your papers!” The experience felt other-worldly, almost dream-like. All I kept thinking of was the 1960’s movie “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold!”

Somehow, watching officials checking every passenger’s paperwork before allowing them to continue with their journey just didn’t do anything at all for my confidence. It would have been more enjoyable if I had been on the plane!

Whether it’s simply proof of insurance as we register a motor car, or a coupon to redeem our car from a car park or to pass through a turnstile, it often appears that our passage from one line to the next will take place only if we have the right papers!

We are seeing less of it of course, as increasingly all we need is a picture id to pass through any gateway. Even with the pressing need to enforce security as so many countries are trying to do, there’s always a fast lane, or priority queue, where with the right credentials instant passageway is assured, and in almost no time at all you can be about your business.

Papers, credentials, and certificates! All important today when it comes to substantiating or proving conformance. And with the messages coming from HP, programs are emerging and it is becoming important to know where a product line fits within HP’s strategy.

Is this solution really modern, as it’s vendor claims, and does HP acknowledge it’s presence in their modernization program? How do we recognize modern solutions and what clues is HP providing?

As participants of this year’s NonStop Symposium may have heard, HP NonStop management was musing on how, “customers have upgraded their hardware, but their applications have not evolved.” Still using COBOL and TAL as programming languages, still accessing the system via green-screens, and still using Enscribe for file management!

Vendors attending the NonStop Symposium heard of a new program, the Converged Infrastructure “Ready”, or simply, CI-ready Program, that is the first step towards assuring that a solutions suite is modern, and can be deployed on the latest blade offerings no matter the package.

Boundaries, or borders if you prefer, no longer restrict the choices available to run a solution – Linux? Windows? NonStop? All can be options where the final decision will be taken by company or business unit.

Laying out a very level playing field to all solutions and middleware providers, HP’s CI-ready program provides certification to those vendors who can demonstrate that their products run on NonStop Blades Systems (and J-series operating systems) and, uses one of more of the modern and open software infrastructure components on NonStop (e.g. Java, SASH, SOAP / Web services, SQL/MX, etc.) or, is capable of being installed with NonStop Software Essentials (e.g. can then be integrated into the installation repository for any NonStop system).

Well-known infrastructure vendor, ESQ chose to participate and was part of the initial roll-out presentations. ESQ was motivated to participate as one goal they saw was that success with the program would attract the “interest of younger software developers.”

Demonstrating the openness of their solutions was very important as ESQ’s Shridhar Venkatraman suggested in a recent email. The “proof of concept (PoC) was to pick our java based modules,” Shridhar said, and “make no changes and test them on the NonStop, which we did. In order to do this we had to make some open source modules also run on the NonStop including Apache Derby, ActiveMq, Drools and Squirrel.”

ESQ continues with the PoC and believe that one potential outcome will be that they “will make use of the unused headroom on new blades. This will provide integrated alternatives to adjunct Windows / MS SQL servers.” No more duplicating data on NonStop to off-platform MS applications but rather, creating the environment for running the same MS applications directly on the NonStop!

First to officially receive their CI-ready status has been another infrastructure vendor, IR. “For over 10 years, IR adapted their High Definition Monitoring™ software (Prognosis) to address systems beyond the HP NonStop platform,” Pierre Semaan, IR’s head of Product Management emailed me recently.

“We have gained many net new (outside HP NonStop ecosystem) customers (and) our distributed systems product line enjoyed much of its success due to customers choosing to deploy it alongside our HP NonStop solutions to provide a single view of their application ecosystem.

For vendors like IR, who are increasingly seeing deployment in a volatile mixture of platforms where the actual platform running the software frequently varies from one customer to the next, retaining the option to deploy anywhere is an important attribute of the solution.

Semaan then went on to explain “introducing the ‘CI-ready’ program highlights products that address the real customer need of deploying their mission critical applications in a heterogeneous environment.”

“It is very rare these days to see complex continuity or mission critical applications being deployed on a single platform,” Semaan acknowledged. Knowing that a platform has been recognized as a participant in a Converged Infrastructure (CI) program gives the participants the credentials they need to pass through any gateway!

“We are increasingly adding value to our customer’s systems by extending our solutions to cover the applications running on CI, not being restricted to the underlying platform manageability. Migrating across CI systems can finally move from being a dream to reality.”

Papers! When I flew to Warsaw I had forgot that I still needed paper tickets so yes, they were sitting on my desk back in America. The good folks at Lufthansa let me board the plane anyway, but there would be no such luck on the return trip. Margo and I couldn’t take the flight!

Accredited as CI-ready, solutions for NonStop will not be held back from greater participation in the business enterprise either, and their even more widespread usage may develop as a result. For creating this program, HP should be thanked. As ESQ’s Shridhar reminded me, “NonStop is suffering from a ‘Paucity of Cool’; this is NonStop's chance to get back on the plane!”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Reliable as the clock!

Anyone who has faced the prospect of driving on California’s Interstate 405 (I405), that bypasses downtown Los Angeles but represents a major arterial highway in and out of Los Angeles (LAX) airport, cannot escape the nervous twitches that develop or the sense of dread that begins to overwhelm them.

Ignore the big green signs that direct you to popular tourist destinations of Santa Monica and San Diego and forget about the prestige and glamor that may lie beyond the exits to Wilshire Boulevard, Mulholland Drive, and Sunset Boulevard, this freeway that can grow to be as wide as 12 lanes in some sections, is among the most dangerous freeways to traverse in America.

Hard pressed to catch a flight out of LAX there’s never any assurances that an accident will not occur only a mile or so ahead, or that construction workers will not close a lane or two, and what should take less than an hour ends up taking a lot longer, as every car comes to a stop, reluctantly joining everyone else in an impromptu stationary parking lot!

I had the opportunity to travel to Toronto, Canada, this week to attend the Fall Canadian Tandem User Group (CTUG) event, a view of the vendor area featured in the picture above. And with an 8:00 a.m. flight out of LAX, I was apprehensive about the pre-dawn dash down I405. There’s been days driving out of the pits and onto a race track that have proved far less stressful, but armed with a cup of strong coffee I ventured out all the same.

I have a good friend that takes this route on a daily basis and I often see him back in Simi Valley, early in the afternoon, and with a strong espresso in hand, still shaking and with a dazed expression on his face as if his very presence, unscathed, at the local Starbucks was as much of a surprise to him as to any of his friends! The distractions along I405 can overwhelm you and can become disastrous, as is so often the case!

However, it turned out to be manageable – there were the usual Police drama’s underway in the emergency lanes, as cars had been pulled over and everyone slowed to take a look, and bridge overpasses were being worked on with the usual lane closures creating additional choke points, but I made it to the airport safely and was soon standing in line with everyone else.

It was while passing through the security check points that I noticed just how many passengers were removing their watches. I’m not sure whether it’s a case of there being less tolerant settings on the passenger X-Ray equipment in effect, or it’s a reflection on today’s watches having become much larger than I recall seeing in previous trips down the security lines?

In the past, I used to check out the watches of those seated near me and look at the high-end models to see if they were real or just cheap knock-offs.

Good watches of course, depend upon complex mechanical movements and their seconds hand would sweep around the watch-face in a continuous, fluid motion. Less expensive watches employ a simple microprocessor “chip” that cannot match this movement and instead, generate a series of jerky motions, as seconds hands step from one second to the next.

So whenever I see a Breitling, or a Rolex, or even a Patek Philippe exhibiting such a movement I begin to wonder about the heritage of the watch being worn. It is the engineering where the differences originate and no matter the craftsmanship engaged with the production of the less-expensive movements, the manufacturers can never completely eliminate the visible jerkiness of the hand moving in increments, a second at a time.

My first thoughts when I looked at the various watches being worn was that there was a very similar comparison that could be made between IT systems that have been engineered to run in real time, versus those whose origins are in batch. Not that batch systems can be viewed as jerky, but rather, irrespective of how much faster the chips become, and how much multitasking is pursued, they are still batch applications.

There’s many of us who cringe as we recall some of the earlier labels associated with the NonStop server not the least being, On-Line Transaction Processing. This label was affixed during the time when the earliest online systems were appearing on mainframes and helped position the then-Tandem computer in a very specific marketplace.

As the market for NonStop grew and as data base support was introduced, this label was pushed to one side – but the label remains as relevant today as it ever was. We live in an on-line world dominated by real time access to information from around the globe. And the original architecture in support of NonStop is little changed from the time the very first Tandem computers were introduced.

I walked in a little late to the final Q & A session at CTUG as I had just finished up my own presentation on modernizing networks. I missed the question asked but Dick Bird was in the process of handing the microphone to Randy Meyer who heads product management for NonStop.

As best as I could tell, the question was in three part, and spanned the full history of Nonstop: what was the key product / service that most benefited NonStop; what could have been done better; and what were the challenges that lay ahead for NonStop?

These were all good questions and perhaps ones that we have all been asking the management of NonStop for some time, one way or the other. “The original architecture of NonStop, as it was expressed in the mid ‘70s,” was the response from Randy to the first question however turned out to be an excellent response. “Computer Science students will often discuss the architecture even today,” Randy later told the CTUG community.

How often we forget. NonStop is not something that can be added to a system, although the likes of IBM and Microsoft have tried and come close. Even Digital did a pretty good job at blurring the lines for a while, but the architecture of NonStop in addressing the sum of many fallible components in a way that produced a better performing, more reliable platform, remains close to magic even today.

Fault tolerance, another label that’s not used as frequently these days, has to be engineered into the original architecture and cannot be an afterthought or something layered on top of the Operating System (OS). Batch intervals can be reduced to where there are only absurdly small microseconds of gap, but truly on-line and indeed, real-time, systems have been engineered that way from the start.

Time is really on the side of NonStop! Who could have imagined!

Just as the I405 can prove to be a distraction, and the wreckage from previous disasters clearly visible on the side of the freeway, there have been a lot of distractions for users of the NonStop server. Attending CTUG and simply hearing of the recent successes being enjoyed by the platform proved to be a welcome “refresher” on what the platform can provide.

“We are modernizing the Tandem world,” Randy quipped as he kicked off his session on the product roadmap, Java and .Net solutions can run today as easily on NonStop as on any other less-reliable platforms and yet, as relevant today as at any time in its history.

Probably more so with the arrival of the internet, and the globally-connected world we all work in today. Peel back the commodity and standards based infrastructure and middleware and you will find what lies beneath reflects the architecture first embraced thirty-five years ago.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

We don't need no $#@% badges!

My trip home to Boulder took me past Breckenridge, Colorado. Its late fall and the leaves are falling rapidly, with only a sprinkling of yellow remaining on small groves of Aspens. Even though it was late Sunday afternoon the streets of Breckenridge were pretty much deserted, as the town wrestled with catering to an in-between-seasons crowd. As I looked in shop windows however, I couldn’t help but notice how snowboards had completely overtaken skis, and how, even with clothing, the impact of the younger generation and their passion for boarding had relegated almost everything else to the back shelf.

I recall overhearing, just a few years ago, a group of ski fanatics, outfitted in their color coordinated gear, expressing a disgust at the young people who wore jeans fashionably slipping of their hips, snowboards under their arms, messing the fashionable scene of winter sports … clearly, fashions change. But the move away from the difficult to control and just plain scary skis to the simpler, more direct, snowboard represents recognition that in order to grow and attract new adherents, skiing had to accommodate modernization. After all, for our hard-texting youth, its tough to do and hang onto ski poles at the same time!

The picture at the top of the page is of the view from my front porch where the reds of maple trees can be clearly seen between the yellows of nearby snowberry trees. Nothing more dramatic is representative of change than an autumn day. As the temperature dropped I took advantage of the opportunity to page back through older issues of magazines and to catch up on my reading. Liberally sprinkled through the piles of magazines were many car and motorcycle publications and with memories of Breckenridge, and the prevalence of snowboards in evidence around the town, a couple of editorials caught my attention.

In a September 2008 issue of Motor Trend there was a “spy-cam” photo of a new Ford that clearly showed the presence of a paddle shift manual transmission. The writer then waxed lyrical over the potential for “a rear drive 2013 Mustang with a 415-horse EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6, independent suspension, and a six- or seven-speed dual clutch paddle shift transmission. Where do we sign?” However, in the editorial of the September 2010 issue of Car and Driver, the column started with the observation “I noticed an alarming paucity of vehicles offering fully manual transmissions. Even sports-car stalwart Ferrari, of gated-shifter fame, isn’t providing a three-pedal option on the new 458 Italia.”

And then, with a related thought from out of nowhere, the Car and Driver editor adds “Equally distressing, I read in the Washington Post that our nation’s hard-texting youth have pronounced driving seriously lame.” However, the picture becomes a little more clear when the same editor suggests “if teens learned to operate the entire car, not just the steering wheel and occasionally the brakes, I’d bet they’d like driving better. If they knew the sense of control imparted by that third pedal, I’d bet they would strive for its mastery and conquer their fear!” His closing comment? Simply put “let’s train our offspring in the ancient ways of the stick shift.”

Across society there were obviously those who not only didn’t see progress for what it really is, but continued to push hard for legacy technology. This led to another editorial, this time in the latest issue of Vette magazine. In this column, the writer identified with many of us in IT when he wrote “I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of advancing technology, especially when it applies to the automobile. Even so, I think it’s important to distinguish between needlessly complex luxury features that muddle the man/machine interface and well-designed performance- or convenience-based hardware that actually improves the driving experience.” Reminiscent of early impressions about the iPhone, for sure!

What generated this response by the editor of Vette were the very same editorials I had come across. “The initial thrust (of these columns) is that conventional manual transmissions are on the wane, increasingly pushed aside by advanced sequential and dual-clutch automated gearboxes … and the surprising culprit for the old-tech manuals demise: today’s gadget-crazed youth.” In the last statement on the issue of progress, the editor comments “the implication is that manufacturers have taken notice of this generational shift and have retooled their offerings to emphasize visual style over tactile satisfaction (who knew Lamborghini was so well attuned to the buying preferences of 16-year-olds?)”

Readers who may have thought I have spent too much time on the issue of older, legacy, manual transmissions and the school of thought that suggests real drivers only drive manuals, can surely sense where I am going with this. When it comes to programming I can recall many discussions where the talk turned to the programming languages of choice. It’s been a long time since anyone paid me to write code (my last lines of code were in June, 1979 when I was assisting with the installation of a Fujitsu FACOM IBM “plug-compatible mainframe” and I was writing routines for their equivalent of IBM’s BTAM in 370 Assembler) and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to suggest I return to that discipline within our profession. As enthusiastic as I was at the time about the usefulness and precision of Assembler, I would never champion a return to usage of any of these languages.

The reason there’s so much discussion on the subject of languages within the NonStop community perplexes me somewhat, and I often come away amused by it all – within a community viewed by the population at large as being on the forefront of technology, why would any time be spent on waxing eloquently over the use of languages long past their “use-by dates.” To be specific, why are there so many within our community passionate over Tandem languages such as TAL and even TACL. “I’ve written this neat TAL routine!” Wow! “I just created this wickedly powerful TACL macro!” Even wower!

The story that get’s lost in these discussions is the drive to greater productivity and to greater maintainability. There will always be arguments over the precision and control that can be exercised using these languages, and there will always be a place for them I suspect deep in the bowels of the system – but for the majority of us who need to meet deadlines, there’s little to be said in continuing to pursue projects using these languages.

There are only two reasons why anyone in the NonStop community would still want to work with legacy languages and tools such as TAL and TACL. I’m sorry, and this will hurt some of my closest friends, TAL and TACL supporters either refrain from learning anything modern because they don’t feel there’s any real value from doing so this late in their life, or they view it in part as job security. With the downsizing and off-shoring that’s taken place over the past couple of decades, someone has to keep the lights on and support the many lines of code that’s still in operations and until the system is replaced, “I can hang in there doing what I’ve always done.” The kids coming in from college know nothing of these languages and will be loathe to be assigned to supporting them, so “it’s cool! I will be alright! Pass the diet mountain dew!”

Seriously, the energy being exerted in the pursuit of modernization isn’t happenstance. It’s a serious subject that generates so much analysis at so many companies. We have moved way beyond any need for inline macros, subroutines, procedures, and even objects. Looking at a modern simulation game I have no idea how they manipulate as much data as they do in real time, but the languages in use today cater for a richness of experience unimagined just a few years ago. And the amount of data that’s coming from the enormous transaction flow we see today calls for languages that are capable of manipulating so many dimensions, it’s beyond comprehension. And the capabilities of these legacy programming environments!  

There’s no badges issued at NonStop events that proudly promote skills in legacy languages. And that’s a good thing. Change is going to keep coming at us even faster and there’s just no way we can cut enough code to process all that must be addressed if we stick with the languages and tools of the past. Even if we could, there would be no resources available to properly QA it all, time and time again, for every little change. I’m not suggesting that Java or C# are in and of themselves the ultimate answer – new languages will continue to surface. The real story is to not dwell too long over anything we have mastered. All of us within the NonStop community need to be aware that improvements in this area will continue to appear.

I have driven cars with modern automated clutches and I have been active on a number of forums strongly advocating wider adoption in cars that I like. I still have cars with stick-shifts but my preference as a daily drive, and indeed, for use on the track, quickly transitioned in support of the newer products. Want to feel like a race car driver? Get a manual transmission. Want to be a race car driver? Get a modern automated manual!

And this is how it should, indeed, must be. No more so than when it comes to IT and programming languages. There’s little to be gained from being the last man standing, when it comes to programming. And there’s no future in training our programming offspring in the ancient ways of Assembler!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Remove the warnings!

It was great to see the general air of optimism surrounding last week’s NonStop Symposium. There were more attendees than expected, and most of the late arrivals were NonStop users. Nothing exemplified the upbeat atmosphere more than the very crowded Monday morning general session where there wasn’t a spare seat in the house, with many standing against the back wall. I even saw a wry smile on the faces of Winston Prather and Randy Meyer as the prepared to take to the stage. You could be forgiven if you thought that the former glory days of Tandem had returned and that once again, the community was taking flight!
Now, this is NonStop, not Tandem. And this is HP and no longer Tandem Computers. The transition from what I remembered from decades past couldn’t have been more seamless, and the sense of community more pervasive. As the week progressed and the activities of each day wound down, it became increasingly more difficult to penetrate the gathering throng around the Fairmont Lobby bar for a much needed refreshment. And the buzz arising from the ballroom level of the hotel, where sessions and exhibits were being well supported, couldn’t be missed by anyone passing by.

Why the picture at the top of the page? I couldn’t resist, as the timing was perfect. I had just purchased the vanity plates “uLinga”, which is a name of the new networking solution from Infrasoft, when I came across a roadster sporting a red warning tag normally seen attached to the armaments on fighter planes – “remove before flight” After all, even with the terrible market conditions faced by modern car manufacturers, there’s still some incredibly exotic vehicles coming off the production line and the fierce competition that all of them face is pushing them all the harder to deliver product that entices enthusiasts into the showroom. uLinga is Australian aboriginal for “to fly” and when it came time to reflect on the Symposium, I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate!

A quick check of the exhibition hall at the Symposium revealed something very similar to previous events held in San Jose – vendors were solidly behind the program and they were excited to be a part of the program focused on NonStop. A couple of new vendors participated for the very first time, and even a long-time friend of the community returned after an absence of several years. Again, all contributing to the sense of community renewal that gave the atmosphere within the hotel a palpable sense of rejuvenation.  From all that I saw, and with the messages I heard, the NonStop community is alive, the red warning tags torn away, and rearing to fly!

Against this background, it was good to welcome back ACI Worldwide to the Symposium after an absence of several years. Some of the faces were very familiar – Jim Bowers and Doug Grote are well known to most in the NonSop community – but there were a couple of new faces as well. ACI was promoting their infrastructure and middleware products and looked hopeful as they fielded questions from the hallway traffic.

So much has changed, however, since ACI last participated at a community event, and the playing field had changed considerably - it’s now NonStop and not Tandem. After nearly three decades of facing only minor competition, ACI customers are now looking at a variety of product options that include support for low level protocols, infrastructure, and even replacement payment platform solutions. Of these a number of vendor offerings caught my eye and I had the opportunity to talk to several energized individuals as the week progressed.

Perhaps the biggest surprise I had, from talking to vendors, came about following the suggestion of some good friends at HP. Mike Meeks, Senior Vice President of Baldwin Hackett & Meeks, Inc (BHMI) was talking about a new product just introduced to the financial services marketplace. BHMI has developed a product for MasterCard that is a replacement for ACI’s XPNET transaction processor. For those who may not be familiar with the role played by XPNET at BASE24 sites, it’s the equivalent of Pathway although a highly specialized and optimized offering – look for more detailed coverage in a future blog posting.

All the same, it’s the very heart of BASE24 and for me, as a former ACI employee, XPNET is infrastructure of a type I never thought would see it facing a competitive product offering. MasterCard have completed an evaluation and the product is in production. There are many stand alone users of XPNET (also known as NET24), and even though the marketplace isn’t that large, in some countries XPNET is the most prevalent product deployed at customer sites.

Also attending the Symposium was Peter Shell of Infrasoft Pty Limited. Peter had travelled from Sydney Australia before the start of the event as Infrasoft’s new product, uLinga, had just begun a Proof of Concept (PoC) and the anticipation of success could be clearly seen on Peter’s face. Developed as a replacement for ACI’s ICE product, as well as a replacement for some of the functions supported in HP’s SNAX products, and again, carrying with it the potential to dig even deeper into the ACI customer base. uLinga is not another SNA solution but rather, a way to modernize on TCP/IP and yet, allow SNA application to communicate as if SNA was still present.  

The work being done by BHMI and Infrasoft is not news to ACI who have been aware of these developments for some time. The decision of ACI to attend the Symposium should be applauded even more, as ACI now recognizes the need to compete. Readers of this blog already know of my close ties to Infrasoft and to its product uLinga – hence the vanity plates for my car. However, providing infrastructure and middleware to the NonStop community represents only a small percentage of ACI’s business. It is another client of mine, also present at the Symposium, however, that could prove to be more troublesome to ACI than BHMI or Infrasoft. Opus Software Solutions and its subsidiary, ElectraCard Services (ECS) have focused on the application itself and that has to hurt.

Paresh Banerjee, who heads the America’s operation of Opus, had been visiting Denver when he decided to fly to the Symposium to check it out for himself. Opus, through ECS, has now successfully completed a pilot implementation of their electraSWITCH product at State Bank of India (SBI), where the potential exists for Opus to support one of the largest deployments of ATMs and POS terminals in the world. Utilizing NonStop on Blade servers across two data centers, the payments product has been deployed as a replacement for ACI’s BASE24. This too is known within ACI and yes, it’s proving to be extremely competitive.

In the days that followed the Symposium ECS issued a press release in which it announced that MasterCard had made an investment in the company. “MasterCard is committed to bringing the greatest value to our customers, who are increasingly looking to enhance the depth of their product offering and differentiate themselves in the marketplace. We are impressed with ECS’ capabilities and look forward to further enabling our mutual customers with customized and differentiated options,”  according to T.V. Seshadri, General Manager, South Asia, MasterCard Worldwide. Again, look for even more commentary on this subject in future blog posts!

Also present at the Symposium was AJB Canada, who isn’t quite as far down the prospect / customer path as BHMI or Opus, or even Infrasoft. Their new payments platform offering, targeting the retail business, should be starting a PoC shortly with a second PoC in the works for early 2011. In a couple of weeks time I will be attending the CTUG user event at HP’s offices in Toronto and anticipate a further update at that time. I have covered the offering from AJB Canada in an earlier posting and I am continuing to track it and, hopefully, will have more to report later in the year.

In returning to the Symposium, however, ACI faces competition all across the board and, with their participation, it’s a testament to their willingness to compete. It would have been very easy for ACI to ignore the Symposium, but taking a booth and having folks actively participate, I found particularly encouraging. If everyone else is electing to take flight, then clearly, they weren’t prepared to be left behind!

This week, I took my car to the local Chevrolet dealership. Across the street there is a Ford showroom and down the street, there’s a Dodge dealership. As I talked to the management at each dealership, it was evident how anxious they were to compete again after what, for all involved, was a very uncertain future. While I am not suggesting the IT marketplace is suffering anywhere near the angst that the auto industry has suffered, or that the competition between the manufacturers we all witness daily on our television sets is on par with what happens between IT vendors, however, all industries benefit through competition.

Even though much has changed within the NonStop vendor community, where there’s far more competition than ever before, I continue to view it as a very healthy sign. There can be no downplaying how tough it will be for ACI to compete – they are the incumbent, of course, at the majority of sites, and that still counts given today’s tough economic conditions.

It’s good to see them back! It’s also good that, in their absence, so much has been developed and we have seen a renewed focus on NonStop as a result, as one HP sales executive recalled for me, adding “there’s never been a situation quite like this before where there’s been as many software houses approaching HP for help with porting!” And I, for one, have to admit – I’m pleased to see ACI supporting the user community once again just as I’m pleased with the interest in NonStop it’s sparked and the competition that this has generated!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Still clinging to the sides?

In my most recent post to the comForte Lounge blog, SOA – and a cloudy future! I talked of a series of “firsts” and how, when it comes to IT, we are on the threshold of some really big “firsts” as we head towards deploying hybrids, clouds, services, and other mostly “meshed” technologies that are required to break down application silos. I suspect, this transformation will not follow the evolutionary steps of the past but instead, in a break with tradition and practices finely tuned over many years, we will see some pretty dramatic changes, with some adventurous twists and turns along the way. The picture above is of me near the entrance to Portofino, Italy, a key waypoint for English Crusaders centuries ago and where, only two weeks ago, I spent an enjoyable lunchtime. There is a reason I am sharing with you this experience, and I will get to it in a moment.

As we approach the commencement of the NonStop Symposium, now only a few days away, I am mindful that we are on the threshold of perhaps another transition and potentially, breaking with tradition yet again. So many of us will bring fond memories of times past, when the ITUG Summit played such a big part for all that were part of the NonStop (formerly Tandem) community. It was the event that had everything – drama, surprises and even controversy, but it was always the place to go to hear all the news about what was coming next. With no disrespect to the energy of folks like Bob Sawyer who “fined” everyone, following the Compaq acquisition, a dollar whenever the Tandem word was used – behind closed doors, or in public – many of the attendees will find it hard to separate this event from Tandem events of the past and will continue to harbor warm feelings for Tandem.

We have moved on – and as attendees at HPTF may recall, it was  Winston Prather, Vice President and General Manager, NonStop Enterprise Division (NED), who reminded the audience of how today, “It's a Nonstop ... Not a Tandem,” before adding “the difference is real; the fundamentals remain.” In my blog entry following HPTF, Starting with a blank …  I described how the hardware that NonStop relies on today is almost identical to the hardware used by other packages, whether Linux, Uinx, or Windows, and a clear break proprietary packaging of the past. The differences, on the other hand, do not hide or in any way diminish that NonStop attributes as “the fundamentals remain!”

I returned to the U.S. from Italy to make sure I had time to prepare for the NonStop Symposium, but as the picture at the top clearly reveals, I could have so easily have stayed in Europe. On this last trip, I drove to Portofino, a first for me. In fact, simply driving in Europe was a first for me as well, and having the opportunity for a return visit to this seaside jewel proved irresistible. I’m only revisiting this topic as Portofino has quite a history and, should you have occasion to visit the nearby chapel, you will see reminders of England, and of the mark that visiting Crusaders made on this coastal village. It was as if, all those years ago, Portofino was its own, very special place, with few ties to the rest of Italy.

Today, Portofino is as Italian as any other popular seaside port, tightly integrated with all that represents the best of Italy and the impact it makes on the tourist industry is hard to ignore. There’s rarely a travel agent that doesn’t have a picture of the Portofino harbor hanging on the office wall. Portofino continues to be a shiny jewel alongside the Mediterranean but today, it’s just one of many attractions that make Italy a popular travel destination. As you sit at an outside table and eat lunch, as I did, and observe tenders ferrying guests from nearby cruise ships and busses unloading tourists anxious to sip a cappuccino, taking a photo or two, you may barely give the history of this place a second thought. But it’s presence as a “halo product” that takes pride of place on Italy’s tourist maps, continues unquestioned.

I follow the auto industry, and I have been drawn into more and more discussions about the future of GM, in particular the likely future of its popular brand, Chevrolet. This should not surprise any reader as I own Corvettes and friends and colleagues just naturally assume I am a big supporter of Chevrolet and GM. My first car, as a young lad in Australia, was a GM Holden Torana. However, these days, people rarely associate the Corvette with GM, let alone Chevrolet, and this is proving to be a troublesome circumstance for GM as it begins to pull itself out of its current financial mess.

Corvette is a halo product by anyone’s standards. Halo products in the car industry are those products representing the very pinnacle of engineering, design, and driving experience – as in tourist industry it is location and natural beauty, as is the case with Portofino. Typically, car manufacturers highlight their halo product to attract crowds onto showroom floors, but with Corvette, GM is experiencing an identity crises. Look at a Corvette and find how many Chevrolet badges, or the more traditional “bow tie” emblems, can be found! On every generation of Corvette, up till now, there are none.  For nearly sixty years, GM has kept this product apart from the rest of the Chevrolet brand as if there was always the thought the product could be a stand-alone marque.

Only on the most recent iteration of the Corvette, and as a break with tradition, is a very small, less than 1” by 1” GM badge (and not Chevrolet) affixed to the body work, very low down and just in front of the rear wheels, that now gives the product some tie-in to the parent company. Clearly, it represents a really big first for GM, in its battle to reposition Chevrolet with the general public. Whereas manufacturers, such as Porsche, would never leave their identity off a Cayman or Panamera, and try and find a Honda without the stylized H badge displayed prominently somewhere. It would seem that, halo product or otherwise, GM soldiers on maintaining a degree of product separation for the Corvette product that even now, when greater integration with GM could be viewed as being far more prudent, the sleek sports car embraces very little that can identify it as Chevrolet. 

The modern NonStop server, utilizing blades packaging, likewise retains it’s status as a halo product. When it comes to such important attributes as availability, massive scalability, and transaction performance, it stands out among its peers at HP. Just as GM is working to integrate Corvette into the Chevrolet line, I can see a future where NonStop becomes even more tightly integrated with HP server offerings. In fact, just as Portofino added to the attractiveness of Italy as a destination, I expect that even better integrated with HP, NonStop will further add to the overall attractiveness of HP’s product line as well.

The prospect of such a product integration returns me to thoughts I have had about the upcoming NonStop Symposium, that’s just about to get under way. So much has been written about the strength of the NonStop user community, its traditions and the value it brings to HP. Just as much has been argued in blogs, and online forums, about the mission of the NonStop user group, focusing on topics such as education, advocacy, and engaging with one another in open dialog. “To learn, to influence, and to network,” I read recently, “is why we attend user events!” But just as Winston said at HPTF about the server, “It's a Nonstop ... Not a Tandem,” so too, do we need to remember that as for the company, and to paraphrase Winston, “It’s a HP … Not a NonStop!”

As much as I enjoyed my time working for Tandem and spending time with the Tandem community, the industry has moved on. From my perspective, I fully expect that the future of NonStop will not be measured on how many stand-alone servers are sold but, more appropriately, how many NonStop servers have been sold within each HP server chassis! NonStop has so much to offer HP that NonStop may one day become an integral part of all HP servers - no different to industry-standard power supplies, controllers etc - with the responsibility of keeping everything else highly available. Just read the current set of papers from The Standish Group to get a better feel for what may be coming our way should the touted “Megaplex” take hold!

The community may be on the threshold of thinking, in a more concrete fashion, about adjusting to this eventuality. With so much focus on “modernization,” as we drive to greater innovation, I would like to be among the first to challenge the traditional view that the mission of our NonStop user community is “to learn, influence and network.” Yes, networking is always enjoyable – but the ways to learn and influence have changed. So let me pose the question, is the concept of a user group still relevant, as it exists today, or is it just another entity in the legacy bucket? Has the internet and social media relegated the need to “get together” a mute point? Is our attachment to the user group and to the NonStop label, and seeing only Tandem, working for us or are we clinging to the sides of a vessel that’s mortally floundering?

I really want HP to succeed in the server marketplace – the dominant vendor across the enterprise. I also want NonStop play a role in that success, bringing to all HP servers the much needed fundamentals that mission critical applications will always need. I want a NonStop server, certainly, but just as importantly, I would like to see a server-based “cloud” that’s NonStop, courtesy of embedded NonStop technology! The pieces are all there for this to happen and HP executives wouldn’t surprise anyone should they roll-out such a product.  

Yes, I am mindful that we are on the threshold of another transition and potentially, breaking with tradition yet again as this year’s NonStop Symposium comes to an end. I recall some great times with users at events run by Nixdorf, Perkin Elmer, Prime, Data General, Four Phase, and Wang to name a few… but they are no more. I am not suggesting for a moment NonStop relinquishing its halo product status with all the prestige this entails, but it should have the highly important HP badge attached and easily identifiable. As users, we are now of HP every bit as much as we are of Tandem in times past.  

It’s just that simple. HP will have its big-tent events, and HP marketing will put the best light possible on the entire HP server line, and our heritage and roots will evolve to be little more than curiosity items. And I have no issue with this development in the least. After all, I can see too many images of past technologies that failed to evolve, failing to understand the impact of the PC, the Internet and Smart Phones!

Let’s dream big, and let’s look forward to many more “firsts”!

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